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Shops call for heavy-duty vacuums

(ran HP edition)

A wet-dry shop vacuum is an invaluable aid around the shop and the house.

Wet-dry vacuums are usually more powerful than household vacuums. With their larger motors, tanks, hoses and filters, they gobble up sawdust, large chips, paper scraps, wallboard dust, nails and other shop debris that can spell trouble for ordinary vacuums.

They also can suck up puddles of water caused by plumbing leaks as well as other common large and small home and shop spills.

Another advantage of a wet-dry vacuum is that you can attach it to your power tools. For example, sawdust from a table power saw can be drawn directly into the tank, a useful feature when working indoors where dust might create health and cleanup problems.

Power and performance

In evaluating a shop vacuum, determining its power is not easy. Neither a high "peak horsepower" nor a gee-whiz demonstration of lifting power is a reliable indicator of a unit's capabilities. Luckily, most better known brand-name units sold in home centers and department stores are adequate for a home shop.

For light-duty work for use with hand-held power tools, a 5- to 10-gallon model with a 1-horsepower motor will do. A model with a 12- to 16-gallon tank will work best with stationary power tools.

If you want to compare one vacuum with another, multiply the vacuum's "sealed pressure" (also called sealed suction, water lift, static pressure or just "SP") by its "airflow" which is given in c.f.m. (cubic feet per minute). The resulting figure should be at least 5,000; the higher the number the better. If the information is not available at the store, most manufacturers will send product fact sheets on request.

Tank body

Plastic is the most common material for tank bodies and is fine for most workshops. It is lightweight, rust-proof and dent-resistant. Rust-resistant epoxy-coated steel, used on some higher-end models, is durable and less prone to damage from heat or solvents.

To avoid a mess when emptying your shop vacuum, line the vacuum tank with a large plastic trash bag. Fold the bag over the tank rim so the top holds the bag in place. To empty the vacuum, take the bag out and discard it.

Filter type

If you vacuum mostly dry debris, a pleated paper cartridge provides more surface area for dust, reducing the number of filter cleanings, but the pleats are hard to clean when the dust is wet or caked on. If you do a lot of wet pickup, a flat paper (or foam) filter is better. Some vacuums accept both filter types. Clean filters often and replace them when worn.

If your vacuum isn't picking up dirt as well as it used to, the hose or wand may be clogged. Unplug the unit, then look through both ends; if you can't reach the clog with your hand, use a yardstick or the end of a straightened wire clothes hanger.


Most wet-dry vacuums come with 4- or 6-foot hoses, typically 2{ inches in diameter. Some units also come with a 1{-inch-wide hose. The large-diameter hose is handy for picking up sawdust and chips, the small one for picking up nails and the heavier particles.

Other essential attachments are brush, wet- and dry pickup floor nozzles, extension wands and crevice wands, to fit small- and large-diameter hoses. Many of the vacuums come with an opening to fit a large-diameter hose but provide adapters to accept small hoses.